The conspiracy theorists never salivate quite as eagerly as when there is a whiff of controversy surrounding Manchester United.
Sunday's spectacular derby provided endless fodder for conjecture.
The six minutes and change of injury time that was allowed at Old Trafford – giving Michael Owen just enough precious seconds to seal a 4-3 United victory over local rival Manchester City – will be debated and examined for years to come.
Once again, it seemed as if United had been the beneficiary of dubious refereeing. Owen's dramatic goal brought back memories of United's title-turning triumph over Sheffield Wednesday 16 years ago when Steve Bruce headed in the winner seven minutes into injury time.
The Red Devils attract bitterness and hostility like no other team in the English Premier League, and around the country on Sunday the perception of big-club favoritism was rife. However, as much fun as it might be to whisper about secret plots and pacts, the fact remains that this was a legitimate piece of officiating for which ref Martin Atkinson should receive no censure.
Yes, the board held up at the end of normal time read four minutes. But it is a commonly mistaken belief that that is the exact amount of time that should be allowed. Rather, it is a guide, a minimum requirement. Once Craig Bellamy dramatically scored City's third to equalize once more, Atkinson correctly added extra time to compensate for Bellamy's exuberant and understandable celebrations.
So United is looking good once again, riding its luck and showing the typical resilience and refusal to give in that is its trademark. Sir Alex Ferguson is not always likeable and will exploit any and every advantage to his team's favor. But, this time at least, the three points came from Owen's cool head and United's fighting spirit, not from an unfair and unscrupulous plot.
Weekend Best XI
1. Get him an Advil
Manchester City boss Mark Hughes was left seething by the amount of time added by referee Martin Atkinson and launched into a bitter tirade after the game. Hughes insisted his team had been "robbed in fairness" as City's perfect record to start the new season was stripped away.
2. Get him a beer
Cristiano Ronaldo came up with his best performance for Real Madrid so far, scoring twice to lead the Galacticos to a 5-0 annihilation of Xerez. Ronaldo's confidence is back, and he seems to be trusting his body again after returning to full fitness.
3. Get him some earplugs
Not so long ago Carlos Tevez was a cult hero at Manchester United. That was before he chased the money and took a lucrative leap across to Manchester City. Tevez was booed continuously by the United fans during Sunday's derby, with taunts of "mercenary" ringing in his ears as he left the field.
4. Keep an eye on …
Hey, what about David Beckham? Despite a couple of false steps, including a red card for an abysmal tackle against Seattle, Beckham has been quietly putting together an outstanding run of form in Major League Soccer for the resurgent Los Angeles Galaxy. Beckham shined once more as the Galaxy trumped Toronto FC 2-0 on Saturday to cement second place in the Western Conference.
5. Catch a flight to …
Hamburg. The northern German city hosts a critical clash early in the Bundesliga season, as league-leading Hamburg welcomes Bayern Munich on Saturday. Check out the game, then get up early Sunday morning to visit the spectacular Fischmarkt (fish market) on Grosse Elbstrasse.
6. Useless and completely made-up statistic of the week
1 – Number of Juventus players (goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon) who looked motivated and in-form on Saturday despite a comfortable 2-0 win over Livorno.
7. Fond farewell
Good tidings to the artificial surface at Toronto's BMO Field, the not-so-beloved pitch of MLS players. The nicest thing ever said about BMO's turf might have come from Landon Donovan in 2007. "It sucks," he said.
8. Get ready to say hello to …
Ebi Smolarek. The Polish national team striker (42 games, 19 goals) has been linked with the Philadelphia Union, which is set to become MLS's latest expansion team in 2010.
9. Get ready to say goodbye to …
Major League Soccer. No, MLS isn't about to follow the sorry path into dilapidation of the old NASL. But, in a wise and overdue move, the league is ceasing play during the group stages of next year's World Cup, at last proving it might be in tune with the wishes of true American soccer fans.
10. Get excited about …
Luis Suarez. The interest in Ajax's Uruguayan striker is only going to increase after he scored four times in a 4-0 drubbing of Venlo. Ajax coach Martin Jol claimed afterward he had not been that impressed in Suarez, but his comments were surely a desperate attempt to stave off the inevitable approaches from some of Europe's biggest clubs.
11. Why it's good to be a soccer player
Take a look at Radka Kocurova, girlfriend of Arsenal's Tomas Rosicky.
- Manchester United
- Manchester City
- Martin Atkinson
- Michael Owen